Up! cover

Chef Interviews
Rob Feenie
by Kate Zimmerman for Up!
(Westjet's inflight magazine)

Rob Feenie is one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs, even more so after winning the “Battle Crab” competition in the Food Network’s Iron Chef America against Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in February, 2005. The owner and executive chef of Vancouver’s Lumiere, the Lumiere Tasting Bar and Feenie’s, author of two cookbooks — Rob Feenie Cooks at Lumiere and Lumiere Light — and host of Food Network Canada’s New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie, the Vancouver native often finds himself in exotic places — whether hobnobbing with other Relais Gourmand chefs or taking a tropical break with his fiancée and their nine-month-old son. Up! whipped Feenie into a froth of e-mails from Hawaii, where he was on a family vacation.

How often are you on the road?

About three months of the year.

Is most of your travel for business, or for pleasure?

Mostly business, but I do enjoy traveling, and I am never “roughing it,” so it is quite pleasurable.

You seem like an active guy. Do you work out when you are on holiday?

I am in an amateur hockey league (in Vancouver). Being a hockey player was actually my first dream job. I also go running almost every morning with my 2- year-old Ridgeback, Lulu, in the (University of British Columbia) Endowment Lands. Of course, there's also golf. It's becoming quite an obsession of mine. When we're on holiday I usually get in as many golf games as I can. I am also certified for scuba diving, so if I go somewhere warm it's great to get out in the water. I never go on holiday without my golf clubs, running shoes and some comfortable running gear.

What five items can’t you travel without?

My TUMI carry-on luggage, one good suit, my knives, a chef’s jacket, a picture of my son and fiancée.

Do you have any strategies for easy travel?

My travel strategies are pretty simple: make sure you pack light and mark your bags carefully. I always end up having at least one of my bags lost and it definitely helps to have all of your info on it. An espresso and cognac just before a flight cures any jitters and I always bring a portable DVD player in case I do not like the movie selection on the flight.

Distinguishing characteristics of your luggage?

Perfectly packed.

Do you take a lot of chef’s gear with you when you travel?

A few jackets and of course my personal knife set. Otherwise, I can pack light.

Do you have a “lucky” chef’s jacket?

Absolutely — it has a small Canadian flag on the shoulder. I love it.

What’s your favourite hotel in the world, and why?

This is such a tough call, but my favourite hotel is the George Cinq in Paris. The entire property is so incredibly luxurious and it is right in the heart of my favourite city.

 Do you bring back souvenirs? What’s the best one you’ve ever bought? The worst?

For souvenirs I usually try to find some wonderful exotic eaux de vie (spirits) or fantastic bottles of wine. It's wonderful to come home and surprise people with a bottle of something they have never seen before. I once brought back Cava from Fiji, which is a powder that you mix with water into a drink. It was quite strong and we had an interesting night trying it out after work. I also tried to smuggle an incredibly pungent cheese back from France once, but I was busted almost immediately. I had wrapped it so tightly in at least six layers but it didn't help at all. The entire front cabin of the plane smelled like feet and people were giving me dirty looks. That was a long flight.

 Who’s the most famous person you have ever seen while travelling?

Clint Eastwood. I ran into him in Patina in LA. He was just such a relaxed guy. The celebrities I would most like to run into would be the whole band of U2 in Dublin for a pint or two.

Do you have a special drink that you order on the plane?

Favourite travel drink hands-down is a good old fashioned gin-and-tonic. Nothing is more refreshing!

What’s your favourite restaurant — other than your own -- and the dish you like best there?

I actually have three, all in North America. The first, in order of proximity, is The French Laundry in Napa. The second is Charlie Trotter's in Chicago, and the third is Restaurant Daniel in New York. These three chefs (Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, and Daniel Boulud) have been such a huge influence on me and I admire all of them so much. Every time I am lucky enough to find the time to visit I know that I am in for an incredibly memorable meal. Favourite dishes are too tough to say, but it's funny, usually the most memorable dishes I have had at each restaurant have been the most simple.

What was your most memorable travel experience?

Traveling to Sweden when I was 16. I had never been to Europe and that was the trip that started my interest in food. I ended up going back to Sweden twice that year and even learned to speak it. I still do… so whenever I get mad, I say things in Swedish so that I don't offend anyone. Another favourite trip was going to Russia two years ago for the annual Relais & Chateaux conference. At one of the banquets each table of eight had two kilograms of beluga caviar laid out as an appetizer. It was such an incredible meal!

Ideal travel companion?

My fiancée — she is the happiest traveler.

As a Food Network celebrity, do you keep 8” x 10” glossies on you when you travel for autographing purposes?

I do get recognized in the strangest places, like a bar in New York, or some little deli in Toronto. I have never carried photos of myself for autographs, though — that's just for rock stars!

Where do you like to sit when you fly?

First class, ideally — but definitely a window seat in the bulkhead.

Do you take condiments along with you to make airplane food more palatable?

The food in first class is usually quite good. I do not need any special sauces for my meals. I’m really not that fussy!

What key step could airlines take to stop people from joking about their food?

Why would we want to stop joking about airline food!?

Which essential are you most likely to leave behind?

My toothbrush — every time.

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